Do you want to know how to read Japanese manga? Well then you’re in the right place. I’m going to provide you with an outline of how to go from complete beginner to reading and enjoying native Japanese comics.
There’s a lot of information in this post, and I’ve also provided links throughout it to other useful articles, so you might want to bookmark or save this page so that you can revisit it at a later date.
First I’d like to talk about why learning Japanese through reading manga is actually a great idea. Then I’ll talk about what you need to know to get started reading. Finally, I’ll provide some tips to help you get the most out of the process.
The Advantages Of Manga
There are a lot of great reasons to use manga as a tool for learning Japanese. I could probably spend the entire time talking about them, but I don’t want to get stuck on just this one section.
Because of that, I’ll limit myself to what I consider “the big three” advantages to learning a language this way.
The use of pictures.
One of the biggest difference between learning a language by reading traditional books and watching a show is that the show allows you to see what it happening.
This gives you the ability to understand the context of the situation and combine that with what people are saying in order to understand it.
Traditional books don’t have this benefit and to compensate, they have to spend a lot of words describing the situation so that the reader knows what’s going on.
But manga is a perfect blend of these two thing!
Since a lot of the story in manga is told through the panels and what you can see with your eyes, you can figure out a lot of what’s going on just by looking through it.
This actually helps you understand the meaning of words and their correct usage since you can decipher the right setting to use them in.
Something unique about Japanese is that it is a “context heavy” or “context reliant” language. That basically means people omit any and all words that aren’t necessary.
For example, it’s common for Japanese people to not say “I” or “you” when speaking to someone, because that information can be gleaned from other sources such as the situation they are in or the types of verbs the speaker is using.
That brings us to our next point.
The words are mostly dialog.
Image credit: 日本橋ヨヲコ
There are a lot of Japanese words out there. But something that’s interesting is that language can fall into different forms.
In other words, the way you say things and the specific vocabulary that you draw upon will be different when you are writing a letter, and when you are speaking to someone.
Because of this, you have to specifically study dialog and conversation if you want to be able to understand and participate in Japanese discussions.
Manga makes this easy.
Nearly all of the words and phrases that you encounter in a manga are people talking to one another, or a person talking to themselves.
That means you can gain the benefits of reading, like taking as much time as needed to look up new words, while also getting the benefit of studying conversations.
I do have to put a disclaimer here and say that only reading manga won’t make you fluent in Japanese. You also need to spend time listening to Japanese and practicing speaking.
But manga is a great place to find words, sentences, and natural conversation that you can study on your own in order to beef up your conversation potential.
One last word of warning before moving on, it would be wise to select manga that closely reflects real life situations so that the language is close to reality.
Think about picking up a manga that takes place in an office, a hospital, a school, or whatever situation you plan on being in yourself in real life.
Alright, on to the last goodie.
The material is fun.
Something that isn’t talked about a lot is the importance of having the right psychology (or mindset) when learning a new language.
One of the most important elements is to make the process enjoyable for yourself.
There are a lot of reasons why, such as your brain actually learning better in such as state, but I think that the most important thing is that people stick with fun processes.
If learning Japanese is a chore for you, then you’re more likely to skip a day when you’re not feeling like it.
On the other hand, if you genuinely enjoy reading Japanese and you find the manga you’re using interesting, you will engage with the language for longer periods of time, and more days of the week.
This equates to you becoming better in Japanese at a faster rate than if you were bored or neutral about your studying.
How To Get Started
Image credit: Benutzer:Neitram, et al.
You can actually start reading Japanese manga fairly quickly as the barrier to entry is pretty low.
All you really need to do is learn how to read hiragana and katakana and then you can get started. If you picked a manga that uses furigana, then you can look up and learn any kanji you run into along the way.
That being said, I think it’s also a good idea to go through some beginners stuff in order to learn how the language is structured and how certain concepts work (particles, respect language, word order, etc.)
This might mean you take a Japanese language class at your school, get a beginner course and go through it, or simply buy a book of Amazon that teaches the basics.
If I can make a specific recommendation, I would say to pick up Japanese The Manga Way because it teaches you all of the necessary basics and it also does so through manga panels.
What this means is that you can get started with learning Japanese from the very beginning, and you can also become familiar with unique things that appear in manga.
In other words, there are certain things that manga artists do a lot in their dialog that you don’t find in other places and this book gives those things special attention so that you can understand them right away.
Once you’ve gone through that book, the next step would be to get a beginner-friendly Japanese manga that you can start reading and learning from.
Once you’ve reached that stage, it’s really just a matter of improving you ability to understand the material.
How To Boost Comprehension
The renowned linguist Stephen Krashen has possibly done more for helping us understand the language learning process than any other person. He says that we learn languages when we understand the message being said.
So how do boost our comprehension so that we can understand the messages we find in manga? I’ve got a couple ideas that can help you.
The first one was mentioned in the previous section: get a grammar book that specializes in manga.
As it turns out, there are actually a couple different books that teach Japanese through grammar, but the one I recommended above is a fantastic resource all in one place.
The second way is to learn kanji. You can also do this through manga, but I don’t think that it’s necessary. What you really want to do is learn the meanings of kanji and become familiar with how they work.
Then you can use the manga as a form of review or reinforcement of what you’ve learned.
If you’ve chosen the right manga to read, then the readings of the kanji will all be provided in the furigana.
A really great book to use is Remembering the Kanji which helps people learn the meanings of kanji rapidly. But any good kanji book will work, as long as you keep at it.
The third thing you can do is get a copy of the English version of the manga as well.
What I would recommend you do is read through it once in English in order to really understand the conversations and the context. Then when you start reading it again in Japanese, you’ll have a much easier time with the big picture of what’s going on.
If you would rather go through the Japanese manga blind, then you can just use the English version as a backup resource for any sentence or word that you can’t seem to figure out. Pull out the English copy and see how it was translated.
Just keep in mind that it won’t be a direct translation, but rather a natural sounding one.
Read Multiple Times
Image credit: Peat Bakke
Something that I think doesn’t get enough attention is the power of re-reading material at a later date.
Perhaps most people think that it would be boring to re-read a manga, but when it comes to learning Japanese it can actually be a really powerful technique.
One reason is because you’ll understand more the second, third, and tenth time you read through it when compared to the first.
As long as you are enjoying the process, there is really no limit to how many times you should read the same volume.
That being said, I think it’s more powerful to stagger your re-reads with other material in between. Once you’ve finished a manga, try to read it again next month after you’ve filled your brain with lots of new Japanese information.
This will allow a nice grace period between reads so that when you come back, a lot of it feels new to you.
I also think it’s a good idea to write some personal notes after you finish a manga such as how much you felt you understood (30%, 50%, etc.) and any other insights that you received.
Then you can compare these notes the next time you re-read the book. Perhaps you see that your comprehension has jumped from 20% the first time to 60% the second time. That’s a huge win!
This will allow you to actually see and feel your progress with Japanese, which will fuel your motivation to continue working at it.
I’ve also noticed in my own experience that there is a high possibility that you will misunderstand a situation or a sentence when you are a beginner. Then when you read it again later on, and you’re at a higher level with Japanese, you can understand what’s really going on and notice your mistake the first time.
Things brings up something worth mentioning here. Don’t worry about understanding a manga 100% the first time you read through it.
There is a lot of information, and it will probably feel like information overload when you’re first starting out. Just focus on enjoying the process and learn what you can.
The last thing I want to mention here is that I recommend you read manga that are from same series. This will help you out a lot since you won’t have to constantly learn new character names and any special words used in a particular manga.
If you change manga a lot, you’ll end up spending a lot of time looking up each word in a dictionary. But reading from a single series will allow you to spend more time reviewing the same words instead of looking up new ones.
You should have a pretty good idea of what to do now. Like I mentioned before, learning Japanese through manga is a fantastic way to have fun in the language and learn a lot of useful words and phrases.
It’s not a perfect method, since it can’t help you with speaking and listening per se, but I think that most people would agree that it can be a powerful part of your language learning journey.
If you’re brand new to the language, then start learning the kana and basic Japanese grammar. Of course, I recommend a book that also specializes in teaching you manga to give you a boost for when you read the real thing.
Picking the right manga, or series or manga, is an important step as well, so be sure to get one that is both interesting for your personal tastes, and good for beginners to use.
Finally, be sure to establish the habit of reading every day and be sure to try re-reading older volumes to see how much you’re progressed and catch anything you missed the first time through.
Now that you’ve got my thoughts on the matter, I want to hear from you!
What tips and advice do you have for people who want to learn Japanese through manga? Let us all know by leaving a comment down below!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: